I was walking through the vineyard on Saturday evening, during a break in the rain after having racked my last 2009 Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir barrels to tank, and I had one of my most memorable harvest moments in years. The sky was five shades of gray with dark menacing clouds above and on the horizon, heavy billows were being blown in over the coastal mountain range. The colors across the rolling valley hills were tired but deep earth tones with the occasional vine, tree and hedge colored in explosive orange, yellow and red. The picturesque winery barns that pepper the tree lines were dark and motionless. As I stood there in the still of the evening, looking across to my many neighbors’ rolling hillside properties, whose vineyards are all still full of fruit, like mine, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible noise. Almost like being in a World War II movie, I was surrounded by the sound of dropping bombs and gunfire….explosions and crackling and whistling missiles. It was an eerie sound,that as Dr. Seuss once said; “started out low and then it started to grow.”
As I stood there captivated by this symphonic bombardment, while taking in the majestic landscape of a fall sunset in the Chehalem Valley, I realized what it was that had caught my ear and wonder. Every winery in Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley was fighting the birds! Propane cannons, fireworks, whistles and electronic scarecrows on hundreds of acres were simultaneously firing off in an effort to keep the tens of thousands of migrating starlings from decimating their precious vineyard properties. What an amazing moment! It is moments like these when we realize that what we do is always at the mercy of mother-nature. If it is not the heat or the cold or the wet or the dry, it is the deer or the raccoons or the birds or the bugs. This year, I have a feeling, will be marked by birds.
We are currently tasting 21-22 degrees of sugar (brix) in most of our vineyards with great color, flavors and seeds and stems that are almost entirely ripe…… flavors before sugars always excites a Pinot Noir producer! The weather forecast as of Sunday morning calls for 14 days of sunny skies and good temperatures….everything we could have asked for and more. So why should we get what we want? For every push there is a pull and thus, the birds have moved in across the valley in a big way and are beginning to decimate the outer fringe rows of most vineyards where there are tasty black clusters of fruits that promise nourishing and replenishing carbohydrates to these migrating flocks on their way south for the winter. So, we have stepped up and mounted an even larger counter-attack to try and discourage these hungry travelers from choosing our fruit. Needless to say it is a 24-hour a day effort, and an up-hill battle.
What we need is time, to maximize our ripeness with the current weather forecast. What we have on our hands is a situation which, if not carefully executed, could force some growers to harvest earlier than desired if faced with the decision of absorbing a larger than tolerable financial loss due to bird desiccation. Yields are already very, very low. What we do not need are even lower yields.
Needless to say, these are exciting times! Some might say stressful times and some others might say expensive times (what with all of the bird fireworks, netting and propane cannons necessary to get through the next two weeks.) In any case, 2010 continues to surprise us as it unfolds, and given that most of Oregon’s wineries have yet to harvest more than 5-10% of their entire production, the story is a long way from being completely told. We have weeks to go and I have a feeling that we are still in for one doozy of a ride. One thing is for sure, I am really enjoying what I do here at Bergstrom. I am still in love with this great endeavor, even if I happen to look at birds a little bit differently nowadays.